The Gaunt's Ghosts Series by Dan Abnett

Werthead

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Gaunt's Ghosts 1: First and Only

The peaceful, arboreal world of Tanith is commanded to raise a legion of troops to serve in the Imperial Guard, the billions-strong regular army of the Imperium of Man. On the day the Tanith1st is commissioned and depart for deep space, their homeworld is annihilated from orbit. Thus, they are the Tanith First and Last. The Tanith First and Only.

Many years later, the Tanith 1st has a new name: Gaunt's Ghosts. Under the command of Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt, the Ghosts have become a respected unit, skilled in battle and reliable under fire. But Gaunt, a political officer filling a military role, has made some very dangerous enemies in the High Command of the Sabbat Worlds Crusade. The Ghosts are now part of the attempt to liberate the Sabbat Worlds from the forces of Chaos, but Gaunt discovers corruption and heresy may be taking root in the High Command, and he cannot trust anyone but his men in an effort to find a weapon of unimaginable power on the dark world of Menazoid Epsilon before his enemies do the same.

Over the past decade, Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts series of military SF novels and several related series have sold more than a million copies for the Black Library, a remarkable feat that has made Abnett one of the UK's biggest-selling SF authors with sales on a par with the likes of Peter F. Hamilton, Iain Banks and Alastair Reynolds. Many of these readers have gone on to become fans of the wider Warhammer 40,000 universe of which Abnett's series is part (although self-contained; the Ghosts books can be read with no pre-existing knowledge of the setting), boosting sales of the related computer games and the miniatures line.

First and Only is where the story began. For a first novel - although Abnett had previously done successful work in comics - this is a remarkably polished effort, with a superbly-executed structure as the main story thunders forward, interspersed with brief flashback interludes to key moments in the history of Gaunt and his unit. As a slice of military SF, this is top-notch stuff, with Abnett providing a reason for the carnage and using deft but not overdone characterisation to differentiate the various officers and grunts from one another and make the stakes in the battles clear. Military SF is a subgenre where it is remarkably easy to fall into cliche quite easily, but Abnett manages to avoid most of these issues and makes the few uses of standard military tropes - such as the unit's doctor who treats soldiers injured in battle willingly enough but refuses to fight himself - almost a welcome nod to a classic trope rather than anything too corny.

With a firm grasp of character and a superior ability to convey action (you can almost hear the bullets roaring overhead and feel the apprehension of troops stuck in foxholes), Abnett delivers a great, readable SF novel here and earns his comparisons to an SF Bernard Cornwell.

First and Only ( **** ) is a fast-paced, SF military thriller. It is not generally available by itself anymore, but is readily available as the first part of the omnibus volume The Founding (together with its two immediate successors, Ghostmaker and Necropolis), available now in the UK and USA. There are currently twelve novels in the Gaunt's Ghosts series with several more planned, along with three spin-off works and several related Warhammer 40,000 game accessories.
 

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Nice to see someone else read these books and give a favourable review. These are superb and i think Abnett deserves a lot more attention and respect than he gets. Necropolis is my favourite Werhead, i'm looking forward to seeing what you think of this one.
 

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Gaunt's Ghosts 2: Ghostmaker

The Liberation Crusade continues its push into the Sabbat Worlds, pushing the forces of Chaos back on every front. The Tanith First-and-Only are deployed to Monthax, a jungle world which reminds the Tanith forces of their lost homeworld. As the battles there degenerate into a long, drawn-out stalemate the troopers known as Gaunt's Ghosts find themselves recalling the battles of the past even as a mysterious presence in the deep jungles decides to use the human forces for their own ends...

Ghostmaker, the second novel in the Gaunt's Ghosts series, is an interesting book with a slightly odd structure. The first two-thirds or so of the book consist of short stories flashing back to key moments in the histories of individual soldiers within the Tanith First and also the unit as a whole, from Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt downwards in the rank structure. These short stories are varied in nature and tone, but are all pretty good in quality, mixing humour, tragedy and action with some interesting character-development. Several key Ghost characters were developed in the first book but here Abnett is able to portray several more in detail, explaining some interesting backstory moments which illuminate their action in this and the subsequent book. Abnett also makes greater use of the greater Warhammer 40,000 universe (again, no foreknowledge of the setting is required to enjoy this novel), throwing in some appearances by the orks and eldar to spice things up a bit.

The final third is a more traditional war story as the Tanith First engages the forces of Chaos in earnest on Monthax. It's a solid story with some good writing, but the book's odd structure does mean Abnett struggles a little here and there. In particular, he chooses to have the Imperial Guard join forces with an alien battle group to fend off a greater foe, a trope which various Warhammer 40,000 fiction writers tend to use when needed (rather a lot in the Dawn of War computer games) despite the fact that consorting with any aliens in the WH40K universe is pretty much considered a heresy under any circumstances in the game material. Abnett tries to justify it with the use of a new Inquisitor character trained for this very circumstance, but it's a little bit thin as a piece of story rationale.

Whilst not as strong as First and Only or its much more engrossing successor, the thunderous Necropolis (which is basically the Battle of Stalingrad of WH40K engagements), Ghostmaker ( ***-and-a-half ) shows ambition with the author trying something new rather than just another adventure for Gaunt and the boys, and for the most part pulls it off. The novel is out of print as a solo title, but is available as part of the first Gaunt's Ghosts omnibus, The Founding, in the UK and USA.
 

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Gaunt's Ghosts 3: Necropolis

Supplying the vast armies of the Imperium with their weapons of war are the hive worlds, industrialised planets consisting of huge city-states called hives which churn out the hundreds of thousands of vehicles, millions of weapons and billions of munitions required for the Imperium to wage war on its foes. The individual hives on any one world are very competitive with one another, sometimes even to the point of open conflict.

On Verghast, the hive-states of Vervunhive and Ferrazoica, vital supply posts for the Sabbat Worlds Liberation Crusade forces, have long been bitter rivals, fighting a brief but bloody conflict called the Trade War ninety years earlier before settling down into an uneasy peace. When the Zoicans launch a surprise assault on Vervunhive, destroying its offensive army in the field and besieging the city, the hive's proud leaders are forced to call for aid from the Crusade fleet. As elements of the Imperial Guard arrive to reinforce the city, it becomes clear that this is more than just a small-scale planetary feud, and the Siege of Vervunhive will become one of the greatest and most legendary battles of the entire Crusade, especially for the Tanith First-and-Only and their commander, Gaunt.

Necropolis is the third novel in the Gaunt's Ghost sequence and, according to Abnett's introduction to the omnibus edition, is where he 'got it' in terms of what he could do with the Warhammer 40,000 universe and his characters. He's not kidding. The book opens in a rather unusual manner, with the first 50 pages (almost a full sixth of the book) taking place in Vervunhive as the war begins. We meet numerous characters, from city administrators to nobles to industry-workers to gang members, and see how their lives are thrown into tumult by the attack, and how the outnumbered defenders manage to hold off the enemy long enough for a few Imperial Guard regiments to reach them. This gives us a battery of different POV characters, including children, women and civilians (people not well-catered for by the first two books), who give us a very different viewpoint on the setting and world to that of the Guard or Space Marines who are the normal focus for WH40K fiction.

Needless to say, things kick off big time and Abnett unleashes what can only be called the closest science fiction has ever come to its own version of the Battle of Stalingrad. Vast armoured engagements and ferocious artillery bombardments precede a desperate battle for the city and its millions of inhabitants, with Gaunt and his Ghosts, but also numerous other, new characters, in the thick of the action.

Necropolis is, hands down, one of the best purely military SF novels I've ever read. Between the moments of carnage Abnett also delivers some solid character development for the likes of Gaunt, Rawne, Milo, Bragg and erstwhile antagonists like Gilbear and the other Bluebloods. The battles are violent and vivid, and those who have studied Stalingrad will find some interesting points of comparison in the desperate battles between men armed with just grenades and mines and heavily-armoured main battle tanks in industrial wastelands, tightly-packed streets and bombed-out commercial buildings. Abnett also makes some interesting points here about the sheer wastefulness of war, particularly in the maudlin ending, which is unusual in a military SF novel. The book manages to be based around an epic and violent battle without glorifying it, which is an impressive balancing act to achieve.

Necropolis (****½) is a thunderously readable, page-turning and smart military SF novel, available now in the UK and USA as part of the omnibus volume, The Founding.
 

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Great review Werthead.

I have to say that this is my favourite Gaunts Ghost book and is definately up there among my favourite books full stop. It reminded me very much of Tom Clancy's Red Storm Rising.

Dan Abnett's definately note afraid to build up a great character that you can really sympathise with and then have him killed in a gruesome way that just makes you stop and say "oh". A great read and i'd recommend this to anyone.
 

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Gaunt's Ghosts 4: Honour Guard

Following the epic Battle of Vervunhive and his impressive achievements during it, Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt's star has risen and he and his unit, the Tanith First and Only, are tasked with a glorious mission, liberating the shrineworld of Haiga, homeworld of the Saint Sabbat in whose name the entire Sabbat Worlds Crusade is being fought. Unfortunately, the final assault on the planet's major city goes awry and Gaunt finds himself disgraced and out of favour once more.

Gaunt now has only one chance to redeem himself: to travel through enemy-infested countryside and mountains to the Shrinehold of Saint Sabbat and evacuate her relics and remains safely from the planet. For the Ghosts and their allies, the Pardu tank regiment, this will turn out to be one of their most dangerous and desperate missions...

Honour Guard is the fourth novel in the Gaunt's Ghosts series and the first in its second 'story arc'. The action picks up a few months after Necropolis and sees the Tanith First and Only bolstered by new recruits from the scratch companies who defended Vervunhive so bravely during the battle there. This leads to a minor storyline where the fresh Vervunhive troops find themselves trying to integrate with the older, more established Tanith troops with mixed results. The main focus is on the road trip mission, however, with Abnett deciding to base each novel in this arc around a different kind of military mission (the book following this one, The Guns of Tanith, is an airborne drop, for example) to keep things fresh. Another of Abnett's decisions is to focus on large-scaled armoured action, with massive tank battles the order of the day here, although the Ghosts are still right in the thick of the action.

What sets the Gaunt's Ghosts books apart from most military SF is the characterisation, with a number of well-drawn central characters and many supporting ones whom Abnett is only able to paint briefly, but still come across as fully-rounded figures. With this fourth book Abnett is also showing increasing proficiency at inverting or dismissing cliches, with Commissar Hark a notable new character whose motivations and goals are not quite as clear-cut as they first appear. Most startling, however, is this book's focus on spirituality. The Warhammer 40,000 setting's religion - which sees the immortal Emperor venerated as a god and his greatest generals and tacticians as saints - is pretty ludicrous, but here Abnett makes it work. For the first time the reasons for the colossal scale of the Sabbat Worlds Crusade become clear, and we get a better appreciation of Gaunt and his own sense of faith.

Honour Guard (****) is well-written, briskly-paced, well-characterised and brings some new tricks to the Gaunt's Ghosts series, showing that Abnett is not resting on his laurels. The book is perhaps not quite as gripping as Necropolis, but is still a solidly entertaining slice of military SF. The book is available as part of The Saint omnibus, in the UK and USA.
 

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Gaunt's Ghosts 5: The Guns of Tanith

The Sabbat Worlds Crusade's proud advance into enemy territory has overreached itself and is now under a vicious and determined counter-offensive. Gaunt and his troops are redeployed to the industrial world of Phantine, where the surface has been lost under a seething fog of chemical poison, leaving the remaining cities and vapour mills clinging to the tops of tall mesas and mountains. The survival of the Crusade now depends on Phantine and several other fuelling worlds being liberated to open new supply lines to the fleet.

The lack of usable surface area on the planet rules out a conventional mechanised assault, leaving only one option to take the vital settlements of Cirenholm and Ouranberg: a massive airborne assault, something the Ghosts have never done before. As they prepare for battle, the murder of a civilian, apparently by a Ghost, unleashes a storm of suspicion and dissent within their ranks which Gaunt must quickly resolve before it damages their morale.

The Guns of Tanith is where the Gaunt's Ghosts series takes a much darker turn. Whilst we've lost a few minor characters along the way, this is where major, fan-favourite characters start biting the dust and an insidious presence makes itself known amongst their ranks. The Ghosts now have an enemy within and the twists and turns the plot goes through before revealing who it is are impressive. The final few pages of the book are a truly heinous gut-punch of a twist that will leave the reader fuming and shocked.

However, that is the subplot. The main story is about the two airborne assaults. The first is a full-on, all-out attack whilst the second is an infiltration making use of the Tanith's specialised stealth capabilities (the first time they've actually been used properly). Whilst Abnett makes a good job of differentiating the two battles as much as possible, there remains a feeling of repetitiveness. The secondary guest characters are less memorable this time around as well, with the sole exception of the eccentric Van Voytz, Gaunt's new commanding officer who manages to be an effective general and appreciates the Ghosts' abilities despite being also somewhat bonkers.

The book's weaknesses are more than made up for by the excellent twist that the new internal threat to the unit presents and also some crowd-pleasing moments in the book's finale (such as one where a character is invited to look under a table).

The Guns of Tanith (****) is where we start to say goodbye to some of the series' longest-established characters and where events take a darker and more interesting turn. The book is available now as part of The Saint omnibus in the UK and USA.
 

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Gaunt's Ghosts 6: Straight Silver

Decades ago the forces of Chaos overran and conquered the Sabbat Worlds, a star cluster of over one hundred inhabited planets which had been won for the Imperium six millennia previously by Saint Sabbat, a formidable general. One of the few worlds not to fall outright was Aexe Cardinal, too marginal for even the endless legions of the Warp to waste time attacking. Instead, a local, ambitious nation was reinforced and induced to attack its neighbours, unleashing a horrendous trench war the likes of which humanity has not seen in thousands of years.

With the Crusade forces now trying to push back a determined Chaos counter-assault, several detachments of Imperial Guard have been dispatched to secure Aexe Cardinal and its resources. Gaunt and the Tanith 1st are sent in to break the stalemate. Unfortunately for Gaunt, he remains unaware that his unit is harbouring a traitor and murderer...

The Gaunt's Ghosts series reaches its sixth volume and shows little sign of running out of speed. Just as we were getting used to the 'rules' of this series, Abnett decided to shake them up in the last two books by introducing some bad apples to the Ghosts and killing off one reasonably major character, as well as varying the war scenes by switching to an airborne drop in The Guns of Tanith and a running road battle in Honour Guard. In Straight Silver he switches to a gruelling trench war reminiscent of WWI with the two sides happy to lob shells at one another and occasionally try a futile trench-rush. By invoking images of the Somme and Passchendaele Abnett does a good job of getting across the horrendous futility of pointless war, with even the battle-weary Ghosts shocked by the state of the conflict and determined to help break the deadlock.

This leads to a two-pronged storyline, as one detachment of Ghosts scouts a forest for signs of enemy infiltration and ends up besieged in a farmhouse whilst another goes on a Dirty Dozen-style trip behind enemy lines to locate and destroy an artillery detachment. It has to be said that compared to the epic, conflict-ending struggles the Tanith has been involved with previously, these feel like sideshows, but this is deliberate. The Tanith aren't always the unit that turns the tide of a war, and after forty years of conflict such an outcome would have been particularly unrealistic here. Instead, Abnett focuses on the characterisation, particularly of the increasingly loathsome Cuu and his feud with the Ghosts' ace sniper Larkin. Whilst also developing the newer Varghast troops he also switches the spotlight on some older Ghosts who have not featured centrally in the past, such as Feygor and Mkvenner, to good effect.

The end of the book is a surprise. The Ghosts are abruptly summoned on a new mission and we are left on a minor cliffhanger, for the first time in the series. The Ghosts have a new mission, one potentially that could win them the entire Crusade, on Herodor...

Straight Silver (****) is another solidly entertaining instalment in a reliably entertaining series. It is available now in the UK and USA as part of The Saint omnibus
 

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Gaunt's Ghosts 7: Sabbat Martyr

AD 40,773. The Crusade hangs by a thread. Warmaster Macaroth's main forces are bogged down in a devastating conflict on the fortress world of Morlond, exposing the Khan system on his flank to a decisive Chaos counter-offensive. If successful, this offensive will destroy Macaroth's line of supply and surround him. Gaunt and the Tanith First and Only are hastily redeployed to Herodor, second world of the Khan system, to meet the renewed Chaos thrust. On Herodor Gaunt is confronted by nothing less than a miracle, a turn of fate which could save the Crusade from disaster: the apparent reincarnation of Saint Sabbat herself. But this turn of events is timely and convenient, maybe too convenient...

In Sabbat Martyr a number of storylines that Abnett set in motion as far back as Honour Guard climax. In that earlier novel we learned a lot more about the religious basis of the Crusade and Gaunt's own spirituality and religious conviction, something that comes full circle here when Gaunt's faith is by turns battered and reinforced. That book also marked the beginning of various sub-plots involving Ghosts such as Larkin, Cuu, Milo, Kolea and Soric which reach their conclusions in this volume, giving the book a more epic and decisive feel than some of the more recent volumes. If Gaunt's Ghosts were a TV series, this would be the big season finale.

Abnett mostly does a good job of juggling various long-standing plotlines with the book's own internal story, the battle for the city of Civitas Beati. In keeping with the recent trend to give each battle its own distinctive shape and atmosphere, Abnett deliberately makes Civitas Beati a wide-open, near-indefensible position to contrast to the earlier city fighting in Necropolis, which took place in a formidable and near-impregnable fortress-city. Here the fighting is believably chaotic and confused.

This book is also notable for giving us a deeper look at the inner ranks of the enemy. Whilst previous books have briefly featured the various Chaos warlords, their minions and their reactions to the Ghosts' activities, this is the first one where they have a reasonable amount of page-time, with particular attention focused on the nine assassins and their various battles with members of the Ghosts. Whilst a nice idea, it is a little bit undersold in this book. There's simply way too much going on to properly introduce nine badass assassins, give them all a decent level of description and background and then set them against the Ghosts in various engagements in the 250-odd page count. As such this storyline is unfortunately rushed.

More satisfying are the resolutions to long-standing storylines. The enemy within the Ghosts is finally flushed out, other characters reach their destinies and we have the biggest and most shocking death in the series to date. This book feels like the end of an era in the series, with the book's ending setting up an apparent new and bloodier phase of the war.

Sabbat Martyr (****) brings the 'Saint' arc to an enjoyable conclusion and ensures that things will never be the same again for Gaunt and his troops. The book is available now as part of The Saint omnibus in both the UK and USA.
 

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Gaunt's Ghosts 8: Traitor General

Gereon, a Chaos-held planet in the Sabbat Worlds that has been under total enemy occupation for years. The local resistance forces, their hopes for liberation ebbing, are overjoyed when Ibram Gaunt arrives on Gereon, but less so when it is revealed that he only has a dozen troopers with him, and their mission is not liberation, but the assassination of a traitor...

Over the course of the Gaunt's Ghosts series, Dan Abnett has toyed with and tested the limits of what he can do with these books several times, but has generally remained close to the core line that he must deliver a large-scale war story every time out. In Traitor General, the eighth book in the series and the opening of The Lost story arc (which spans four volumes), he goes for a somewhat different approach.

Gaunt and his team are deep undercover and must employ stealth, misdirection and hiding to achieve what they normally would using force. That wouldn't be so much of a problem except that the world they are operating on has been occupied by Chaos for years, with the result that the entire planet is tainted, a taint that starts seeping into Gaunt and his team. This causes increasingly odd behaviour as their perceptions of reality and what is right and wrong begin to change. This also means that the enemy forces on Gereon have some extremely powerful forces to call upon that normally would be not be able to manifest, such as the formidable and extremely weird wirehounds and glyfs, both concepts that feel like they've dropped out of a China Mieville novel. In short, Traitor General is where Abnett gets his weird freak on and pulls it off well.

Of course, Traitor General has its requisite amount of action, including a memorable sequence where the ten Guardsmen (and two Guardswomen) have to face off against five Chaos Space Marines in a swamp village (very long odds indeed), or a running battle between rebels and occupation forces in a town. Abnett also continues his welcome tendency of using each new book to highlight a hitherto under-developed Ghost and bring some development and focus to them. In this book it's Brostin, the team's resident flamethrower-operator and pyromaniac, who gets his turn in the spotlight, though Gaunt's nemesis Rawne also continues to develop away from the thinly-veiled antagonist of earlier books into a more rounded character in his own right.

We also get a deeper look inside the Chaos camp as well. For many of the preceding volumes Chaos has been equated with pure evil and its ranks shown to consist almost solely of crazed cultists and suicidal warriors, though there have been hints here and there of other things going on (particularly with the Blood Pact, the enemy army's elite troops). In this book we get a much better look at how the Archenemy of Mankind operates and discover some amusing parallels to the Crusade's own political machinations and in-fighting. Abnett also starts embracing the more whimsical and surreal nature of Warhammer 40,000 humour, something he'd previously steered clear of (presumably for tonal reasons), and marries it to the more traditional dark humour of the books very well. I'm hoping Humiliti and his unnecessarily pedantic transcribing ways return in future books.

Traitor General (****½) sees Abnett doing something new, weirder and more interesting with the Gaunt's Ghosts series and pulling it off admirably, resulting in one of the very best books in the series so far. The novel is available now as part of The Lost omnibus in the UK and USA.
 

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I loved this book and would rate it with Necropolis. In fact, this entire story-arc had me gripped for the entire 1000 omnibus. :)
 

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Gaunt's Ghosts 9: His Last Command

The Sabbat Worlds Crusade has moved on to the world of Ancreon Sextus, where Chaos forces have dug in and fortified the planet's vast, ancient steppe-cities. Returning from his horrific mission to Gereon, Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt discovers that his beloved regiment, the Tanith 1st, has been reassigned to another officer and he is to return to commissariat duties. However, Gaunt discovers his new task is especially difficult and thankless, not helped by zealous members of the Inquisition who believe that Gaunt may have been tainted during his time on Gereon...

His Last Command continues the 'Lost' arc of the Gaunt's Ghosts series and shows that Abnett is now paying greater attention to continuity than ever before. During the events of Traitor General Gaunt and his team were infiltrated onto a Chaos-held world and had to carry out a very difficult mission. Whilst that was accomplished, the hoped-for extraction never took place and Gaunt and his crew were abandoned on the planet for sixteen months before they could escape under their own power. The result is a rift sewn deep into the ranks of the Ghosts, with the Gereon survivors suffering from various post-traumatic battle stresses, not to mention a form of elitism that comes from their experience that their fellows haven't also shared in. This is an obvious, but still very effective, way of shaking up the Ghosts and severely denting the familial and sentimental feelings that have been building up over the previous eight books. Returning Gaunt to commissar duties and giving the regiment to another commander is also a solid way of introducing fresh conflict to the series, although Abnett carefully avoids cliche by ensuring the new commander is actually an effective and reasonable officer.

The result is a book seething with tension, as the Ghosts are divided by their differing experiences, as Gaunt is at odds with the Inquisition and superior officers over their lack of support during their previous mission, and as the various units differ on how to tackle the unique geography of the planet's steppe-cities. These cities are immense mesas divided into 'compartments' by vast walls, with each compartment featuring radically different terrain and weather to its neighbours. Because the steppe-cities were apparently raised as religious monuments to the God-Emperor of Mankind ten thousand years previously, the Crusade can't simply level them from orbit, meaning they have to be taken the old-fashioned way.

The steppe-cities are an interesting creation, as good a Big Dumb Object concept as anything in a Greg Bear novel, even if the revelation of their eventual purpose is a little ordinary (although the Imperial reaction to it is hilariously over-the-top). The battle scenes are still robustly-handled, but this novel continues the path from the previous one of focusing more on the internal tribulations of the Ghosts as a team and as individuals, and this added depth continues to be very welcome.

With His Last Command (****) Abnett continues to test and play with the limitations of what can be done with tie-in fiction in a manner that is both entertaining and refreshing. The novel lacks the compelling focus and weirdness of Traitor General, but is otherwise a fine addition to the series. It is available as part of The Lost omnibus in the UK and USA.
 

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Gaunt's Ghosts 10: The Armour of Contempt

The Crusade armies have identified their next target: the Chaos-held world of Gereon. Ibram Gaunt and a dozen of his best troops spent a year and a half on Gereon fighting the archenemy, and the Ghosts are in the vanguard of the liberation effort. Unfortunately, as the battle for Gereon rages on an apocalyptic scale, Gaunt gradually learns there are extenuating reasons for this invasion, reasons that are related to his prior mission to the planet...

The Armour of Contempt is the tenth Gaunt's Ghosts novel (of the twelve currently available) and the third book in the 'Lost' arc. The novel initially appears to have been written as a fan-pleasing move: having been through hell and back during the previous small-scale, stealth mission to Gereon, Gaunt gets to return with several hundred thousand troops of the Imperial Guard, vast numbers of tanks and aircraft and several Titans (skyscraper-sized battlemechs with enough firepower to level a city with a single salvo) to dish out some much-needed retribution to the occupiers. Of course, that would be far too obvious and much too boring to make for an interesting book. Instead, the novel is divided into two mostly-separate narratives which have different objectives.

In the first, Dalin Criid undergoes Imperial Guard training. Rescued from Vervunhive as a ten-year-old back in the third novel, Necropolis, Dalin is now eighteen and spoiling to join the ranks of the Ghosts. Unfortunately, as a trainee he is serving as part of the military reserve and when the assault on Gereon begins, he finds his reserve status activated and himself fighting as part of an ad-hoc-assembled military unit stuffed full of rookies, rather than with the Ghosts. This gives Abnett a chance to show us what it's like as part of a full-scale, combined-arms offensive in the WH40K universe rather than the standard Gaunt's Ghosts narrative about smaller-scaled conflicts with stealth and infiltration elements, as well as a chance to dish out more information and background on Guard training. This narrative unfolds fairly concisely with a focus on how Dalin handles the ridiculous pressures put on his shoulders and those of his unit. It's entertaining, but perhaps a little too straightforward after some of the more intriguing curve-balls thrown our way in the last few novels.

In the second narrative, Gaunt has to reacquaint himself with the Gereon resistance and the troops he left behind last time around. This storyline is more of a gut-punch, as Gaunt discovers just how badly he's been used by both his supposed friends and by his enemies, with the people of Gereon left to pay the price. This is a pretty grim story which doesn't have much of a happy ending, especially as it emphasises Gaunt's flaws (an Imperial commissar really should have seen the ending coming) instead of his virtues, something that is always welcome as it would be extremely easy for Abnett to allow Gaunt to become a flawless hero.

The two narratives unfold reasonably well together, although the linking device is a little bit corny. This book features the death of another prominent Ghost, but it is foreshadowed so much that it lacks any kind of real impact, which is a shame given the story points Abnett had set up in previous novels to support it.

Despite this minor weakness, The Armour of Contempt (****) is another strong entry in the series, with an different (but effective) structure to the rest of the novels. The book is available now in the UK and USA as part of The Lost omnibus.
 

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Gaunt's Ghosts 11: Only in Death

The war in the Sabbat Worlds wages on. The Ghosts have been deployed to Jago with orders to hold the remote mountain fortress of Hinzerhaus against a possible enemy flanking maneuver. Arriving at the massive redoubt, the Ghosts find a vast house hiding ancient secrets and inhabited by some old friends. As the forces of Chaos mount an assault on Hinzerhaus, the Ghosts discover that a far greater threat than the exterior enemy may lurk in the bowels of the fortress.

Only in Death brings the 'Lost' arc of the Gaunt's Ghosts series to a conclusion, and the series almost up to date (one further novel, Blood Pact, beginning the 'Victory' arc, has since been published). Abnett's policy in the last few books in the series has been to shake up the format and introduce some weirder and more oddball elements, and this continues in Only in Death. In short, this book overlays a horror narrative over the more familiar scenes of military action, employing both supernatural and psychological elements to really get under the characters' skins.

At the same time Abnett continues his policy of using each book to flesh out characters, bringing new Junior Commissar Ludd and Commissar Hark under the spotlight and dropping Gaunt into the background. The novel's supernatural overtones also allow for some clever moments for character exploration and growth (Larkin hallucinating about the long-dead Bragg and Cuu battling over his soul features some nice call-backs to previous books and explores more of Larkin's post-Gereon personality).

Of course, the action is not neglected, but this time around it's a lot more brutal. Previous novels have seen the Ghosts achieve their objectives with minimal-to-acceptable losses, but Only in Death is nasty, wiping out entire platoons without breaking stride. The end of the novel is ambiguous, with the Ghosts surviving (probably not too devastating a spoiler) but badly broken and bloodied. How they recover from this devastating battle remains to be seen, and will hopefully be explored further in the succeeding 'Victory' arc.

Unfortunately, the book does suffer a little from cheesiness (this series, being military SF set in an ongoing franchise, does occasionally bump into the cheese but generally does a good job of steering around it) as two Ghosts go off on a badass solo mission where they eliminate vast swathes of the enemy single-handed. Abnett sells it as well as he can, but it's somewhat corny, especially when you realise he has retreated from the tantalising possibility of doing something truly shocking in the series.

That said, the novel's ending repairs some of the damage as we get a well-foreshadowed explanation for the weirdness (well, some of it, anyway) and a scene which is genuinely powerful, bringing the novel, the arc and the Lost omnibus to a fine conclusion.

Only in Death (****) is a dark, bloody, weird and satisfying entry to the series, despite the tonally dubious 'two soldiers against the world' subplot in its latter part. The novel is available now as part of The Lost omnibus in the UK and USA.
 

Rodders

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I found the end (the final, bitter end) to be very sad. The imperium is a cruel place indeed.

Overall, you've got to be pretty impressed that an author has written 11 books of a single story arc and i don't think that any have been below four stars. That's a major thing IMO.
 

Werthead

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Gaunt's Ghosts 12: Blood Pact

Two years have passed since the ferocious battle for Hinzerhaus Fortress on Jago. The Tanith First and Only won a famous victory, but only at a horrendous cost in lives. Battered and bleeding, the Tanith First finally won a respite, being rotated back to sector HQ on Balhaut for a well-earned rest after ten years on the front lines.

However, two years of inaction has led to problems with discipline, training and morale. In the midst of these problems, Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt is summoned to a clandestine meeting. An agent of the archenemy has been taken prisoner and wants to give up valuable intelligence...but the Blood Pact have been sent to silence him by any means necessary.

Blood Pact is the twelfth novel in the Gaunt's Ghosts series and marks the beginning of the fourth distinct story arc in the series, "The Victory". The opening of the book feels like Dan Abnett is taking a deep breath after the mayhem of the previous novels, which featured some of the bloodiest and most frenzied battles in the series to date, but it's not too long before the action kicks in again. Blood Pact is a short novel taking place over one single night and morning of carnage as the Blood Pact - the Ghosts' sworn rivals - arrive to carry out a suicide assassination task, succeed in splitting up the Ghosts and also take advantage of internal divisions as the Ghosts find themselves still under suspicion from the Inquisition about their mission to the Chaos-tainted world of Gereon years earlier.

As usual with a Gaunt's Ghosts novel, the pace is blistering, the action is superbly-handled and the characterisation shines. Gaunt's return to the world where he lost his former command but gained a new one adds new shades to his character. Background Ghosts nicely come to the fore, such as Maggs, whilst we touch base with a few key Ghosts who've been lower in profile in the preceding books. However, Blood Pact does feel like a lesser entry in the series. Perhaps it's due to the increasing frequency between novels (Blood Pact was released in 2009 and one more book, Salvation's Reach, in 2011 with nothing since), but Blood Pact feels a little like too much set-up at a moment in the series when it feels like it should be perhaps more decisively moving towards a conclusion. This can be seen in the fact that while a few key characters get a lot of time in the sun, numerous other Ghosts (including many who played key roles in the preceding few books) suddenly drop into the background. If Gaunt's Ghosts was a TV series (and we can but hope), this is the relatively low-key opening to a new season which is reacquainting you with all the characters before the big storylines kick in.

On that basis, Blood Pact (***½) does a good job of setting up its immediate sequel, Salvation Reach, and tells a rollicking good action story. Not one of the best books in the series, but still an effortlessly enjoyable slice of military SF from the best author in the subgenre. If you want to read the book, Blood Pact is currently only available as an ebook from the Black Library direct. However, the entire series is being rolled out in new editions, so it should be back in paperback in a few months.
 

BAYLOR

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It's some of the best military science fiction ive ever read
 

Werthead

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Gaunt's Ghosts 13: Salvation's Reach

The Tanith First and Only, the Ghosts, have been newly-reinforced by fresh troops from Belladon and Verghast and are preparing for their most audacious operation yet. Using intelligence gained at great cost from a Chaos prisoner, the Imperium has located Salvation Reach, a top-secret research facility for the Sons of Sek, their most tenacious foe in the Sabbat Worlds Crusade. The Ghosts and several powerful allies having to mount a spaceborne assault on the facility, a single surgical strike which may decide the fate of the entire Crusade.

Salvation's Reach is the thirteenth novel in the Gaunt's Ghosts series (and the second in the "Victory" arc) and marks a new phase in the massive conflict known as the Sabbat Worlds Crusade. The Ghosts aren't taking on an enemy head-on, but are instead manufacturing division in the enemy's ranks, trying to turn the Blood Pact and the Sons of Sek against one another so the Crusade can take advantage of the division and secure victory. It's a difficult, ugly mission and one that most Imperium forces wouldn't be able to handle, but for the clandestine Ghosts it's a task more suited to their talents.

The previous book in the series, Blood Pact, was good but atypical for the series, focusing more on a much smaller-scale conflict. Salvation's Reach is a return to mass engagements, but in a different context, with the Ghosts have to take part in hostile boarding action on a space habitat hidden deep inside an asteroid. Along the way they have to take part in an absolutely massive space battle (which will have Battlefleet Gothic fans cheering), deal with a shapeshifting Chaos assassin and negotiate - delicately - with the three Space Marines assigned to help them with the mission.

The action side of things is, as usual, well-handled with the requisite fighting, brave last stands and tactical discussions all being quite good. However, the heart and soul of the series has been Abnett's handling of the characters, from Ibram Gaunt all the way down to the lowliest, greenest new recruit in the Ghosts' ranks. The character arcs are uniformly handled superbly, with several slow-burning story arcs extending across the series coming to startling climaxes in this book (with several callbacks to Necropolis, still arguably the best book in the series and certainly so far the most important). Several beloved characters bite the dust, but more impressive is the way character relationships are developed. The best scene in the book is where a stoic and merciless Space Marine solves one trooper's long-standing medical problem in one swift action and restores his life and military career (previously thought over) to him, without ever breaking character or the tone of the series.

On the negative side of things, there's a few cliches I could have done without (such as hitherto unknown family members showing up unexpectedly), but otherwise Salvation's Reach (****½) is a gripping, excellently-executed science fantasy war novel with a brilliant line in characterisation. It is available now (alongside Blood Pact) in The Victory: Part 1 omnibus (UK, USA).
 

Rodders

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Nice review Werthead. I’ll be sure to add this to my wish list.
 
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